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Archive for the ‘land reform’ Category

Let’s start with the bad stuff first, shall we?

A video report telling us that large landholders don’t like the new agrarian reform much. You know what? British MPs don’t like the new focus on their expenses much, either, because it shows some of them to be grasping, out-of-touch toerags who think they’re above the reach of the law. Much the same thing’s happening here. Just let me say it again: Bolivia’s latest land reform is moderate and reasonable. It doesn’t confiscate land from anyone who can prove that they acquired it legitimately, and who isn’t committing human rights abuses on it or using it only for property speculation. It limits new land purchases to 5,000 Ha, which if you think about it, is an enormous stretch of land, and it’s not retroactive.

The misrepresentation of the land reform isn’t really what annoys me about this, though. What gets me is the airtime and attention paid to the viewpoints of people who are already amply represented in the foreign media. Ron Larsen is an appealing character to feature, because he’s a hero to those who see the Morales government as barbaric, xenophobic expropriators of foreign investment, and a ideal bad-guy figure to the Bolivian press (and whisper it, government) who seize on his (no doubt carefully cultivated) cartoonish cowboy persona – north American, wealthy, cheerfully racist and closely linked to the autonomista leadership in Santa Cruz. He’s probably being interviewed because his estate was most prominently highlighted as the place where many Guaraní people were living in conditions ‘analogous to slavery’. So why not interview some of the people who were analogous to slaves, eh? One of the many human rights abuses shown to have been committed in Alto Parapeti was that the serfs living there weren’t allowed to speak with journalists or human rights organisations, but that particular right doesn’t matter so much if the press don’t take an interest in talking to them anyway. By giving interview time (and a sympathetic airing) to Larsen and to a representative from the government, but not interviewing any of the serfs of the estate, it denies them a voice, leave them as background and end up perpetuating the silent Indian stereotype which is so infuriating.

Andres Schipani, on the other hand, has provided us with a story which does call on indigenous voices, and makes the Guaraní people of Alto Parapeti more than mere scenery. In this piece for the BBC, he actually goes and talks to some of the people kept in conditions of servitude on Larsen’s ranch. Their stories are distressing, but inspiring, and the statements from Victoria Tauli Corpuz, representative from the Un Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues are worth your consideration. She has this to say:

We find this situation of domination and violent rule of the landlords over the indigenous people unacceptable … we think this is a gross violation of the basic political, social, economic and cultural rights

She’s also on record as saying that the Cruceño Autonomy Statutes of last year ‘promote, conceal, strengthen and reproduce the practice of servitude’.

Fellow travelers of the autonomy movement in Santa Cruz should be well aware that their political aims are determined by business interests, not popular ones, and that these are the autonomy statutes which were ‘approved’ in bogus, non-recognised, privately-funded ‘referenda’, so no-one should really be taking them seriously anyway. Even so, there are still those who are inclined to be sympathetic to any region trying to break away from the OMG!eebilmarxistdictatorship of Evo Morales, and hopefully this announcement, as well as April’s assassination plot, will make them wake up to a fairly basic truth: it’s not a good idea to give massive feudalist* landlords control over their own pet autonomous Ministry for Agriculture, let alone their own organisations for the defence of human rights. Do you think someone could send a memo to the folks at WorldFocus.org?

*Alright, Jarrett, you win that one.

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Remember how last year, the Minister for Agrarian Reform, his employees and a load of Guarani people were kidnapped, beaten up and threatened by cartoon-baddy estate owner Ronald Larsen as they went about trying to establish legal titling for indigenous lands in the East? No?

Larsen’s the rancher from Montana who moved to Bolivia in the late 60s and, along with his family, bought up land three times the size of the city of Santa Cruz. Luckily for him, like many estates in the area, his ranch came with a captive labour force of indigenous Guarani people, who have been working there in conditions of servitude ever since.

Last year, a fact-finding mission from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organisation of American States and the Bolivian government investigated forced labour and servitude on various large estates in Santa Cruz and other departments, and found that hundreds of Guarani families were living in conditions ‘analogous to slavery’, where landowners had supplanted the State and were operating with impunity, obliging people to work for laughably low pay or none at all, preventing them from getting an education or living in humane conditions, limiting their movements and violently repressing attempts to organise, create or join a trade union or speak to human rights organisations.

Even after being held at gunpoint by Larsen’s thugs for a couple of days and then kicked out of the area, the personnell from the Ministry of Agrarian Reform returned later on last year to carry on with the investigations and legal processes to find out if the land on this estate and others was held legally, and if people were being forced to live in conditions of servitude, in violation of various international laws (and, you know, basic human decency). They found a whole shitload of weapons, to start with, and they must have found evidence of substantial human rights violations, because guess what? The Larsens and several other arseholes with feudal pretensions large landholders are having their estates confiscated. I know, I know, but it’s so hard to get the help these days! I mean, have you ever tried running a 15,262 hectare estate without a captive workforce who’ll carry out forced labour under physical threat? It’s a nightmare, Matilda. One’s heart simply bleeds for those poor wee oligarchs kicked off their humble thirty-thousand-acre fincas.

Or, in the words of one of my poetic compatriots:

funny pictures
Photo: BBC. Used without permission, but with love.

Here’s the full story at Bolpress. (Incidentally, can someone have a word with the webmasters at Los Tiempos and La Prensa, PLEASE? I had links to the stories they ran about these events archived, and it looks like they’ve just not bothered storing online editions for 2007 and 2008, leaving me with a load of useless dead links. WTF arg etc – I don’t like only using Bolpress as the source, but they’re the only ones who take the trouble to make sure their old links work!)

My translation into English under the cut:

(more…)

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